I’m in a bind over Phantom Thread. Because I like a nice frock, better still a beautiful shoe, and I’ve been known to ply the needle, I‘ve been showered with “Have you seen…? YOU are going to love it!” My feelings are a bit mixed.
One does have to spend about two hours with a very difficult, not to say unpleasant person, Reynolds Woodcock. It would be shallow however, to dislike a film because the main character has Asperger’s syndrome, is bi-polar or just plain rude. As a superb actor, Daniel Day-Lewis plays it to the hilt. On the plus side, it is visually gorgeous. His suits are a dream; he even polishes his shoes. (Sorry, today that is a big plus. You’re lucky if the trainers get a run in the washing machine occasionally.)
The couture is dowdy - but then again it is English. What were Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy doing at this time? But as a friend pointed out, he was at the end of his career. For a sewer, it is riveting to see the interior construction of these pieces (e.g tiny pads sitting at waist level to lift the skirt away from the body). And Woodcock does thank his seamstresses every time for their beautiful work.
There are some instances where behavior and dialogue don’t fit this otherwise perfect period piece. Since when does a young girl go for an evening ride with a man on whom she has only waited at breakfast, even if it is a Bristol 405. Anger and arguments are heavily accentuated with the “F” word (never thought I’d have an opportunity to write that) which is as out of place in the late ‘50s as are the Champagne flutes at a posh party they attend.
His sister Cyril should have got the Oscar. I’m practising her manner in dealing with life's difficulties – pause, put down pen, remove glasses, look up, smooth hair behind the ears, then and only then, speak.
Critics have noted that the two main women in his life give as good as they get. I disagree. They speak the truth but he has no intention of changing. Breakfast toast will continue to annoy him.
Food is part of the power struggle (breakfasts are important) and used as an expression of both love and tyranny but I’m not sure we can hail “Phantom Thread” as one of the great food films, even if he has a large appetite. Deborah Ross, film reviewer, describes Woodcock at the country inn.
“He orders Welsh rarebit with a poached egg (not too runny), bacon, scones, cream, jam (not strawberry), tea (Lapsang Souchong). There is a pause: ‘…and sausages’. He had me at ‘scones’, to be honest, but who other than Day-Lewis could make a breakfast order so powerfully seductive?”
But look for the following…
The restaurant treats its guests as adults, not flapping napkins onto laps.
Pudding or dessert is eaten with both a fork and spoon.
You'll be trying Lapsang Souchong again from an iron teapot , sipping from a raku bowl.
You’ll want to move your daily breakfast up a notch in decorum and setting. The Wedgwood service is “Edme”, 1902 – 2014 (although it might be revived in 2018).
But the film is worth another viewing for one scene. I gasped and tears stung my eyes - the plate of simple asparagus. Sublime.
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